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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bush, Blair Press Briefing

Aired April 16, 2004 - 11:54   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Daryn. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington, and we are awaiting the start of a joint news conference in the Rose Garden, the president of the United States and the British prime minister.
The two leaders are running a little bit behind schedule, actually. They seem to be catching up right now. We expect to go there live momentarily.

Take a look at this shot. You see some roses in the Rose Garden. That's why it's called the White House Rose Garden.

Our White House correspondent, John King, is in the Rose Garden himself right now. John, help us get to this event.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're about a minute away. The president and the prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, will be here in the Rose Garden.

Obviously, the urgent topic of discussion, the insurgency in Iraq and their plan to go ahead with the transfer of sovereignty on June 30, despite the fact there is no agreed upon plan just yet.

The United Nations has a sketch of an outline. Both leaders, we are told, will embrace that outline today, even though the most urgent, important details still need to be worked out.

They are also talking, of course, about perhaps increasing some troop levels to deal with the insurgency in Iraq, but we are told their most urgent message today will be that they believe you can still keep the June 30 deadline, less than 80 days away, for transferring sovereignty in Iraq, even though you have the lack of a complete plan just yet, lack of an agreement on how that new government will take shape and, of course, a violent insurgency that has caused the deadliest month in Iraq for U.S. troops -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, there are some irritants in the U.S.-British relationship right now. Presumably, those irritants might arise during the Q and A.

KING: Well, the reporters might try to get them to arise during the Q and A. Generally, though, these two leaders air those differences in private, tend to give a voice of solidarity in public.

Prime Minister Blair has made no secret of the fact he would like more United Nations involvement earlier. I'm going to step down as the leaders come out. And also, there's some frustration in Europe with the Middle East plan.

BLITZER: All right. Let's listen in with their opening statements. The president will go first, as they walk to the microphones in the Rose Garden.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all.

Mr. Prime Minister -- Tony, as I like to call you -- Cherie Blair, thanks for coming, it's great to see you. Laura and I are pleased to welcome you once again to America and to the White House.

Throughout the last century, the United Kingdom and the United States have stood together when liberty was assaulted and free people were tested. And now, in this century, our nations see clearly the dangers of our time, and we share a determination to meet them.

Since our two countries shared the loss of September the 11th, 2001, we've joined in a global manhunt for terrorist killers. We've removed the terrorist camps of Afghanistan and the brutal government that sheltered them. We've enforced the demands of the United Nations in Iraq and removed a dangerous threat to the region and to the world.

BUSH: We've worked together to end the WMD programs of Libya and bring that country back into the community of nations.

We are engaged in difficult and necessary work of helping Iraqis building their own democracy for the sake of our security, and to increase the momentum of freedom across the greater Middle East.

The stakes in Iraq are clear. Iraq will either turn back the challenges to democracy or return to the camp of tyranny and terror. Iraq will either be an example of a region that is weary of poverty and oppression or be a threat to the region and to our own people.

Our nations face a stark choice: Britain and America and our allies can either break our word to the people of Iraq, abandon them in their hour of need and consign them to oppression; or we can help them defeat the enemies of a free Iraq and build the institutions of liberty.

The prime minister and I have made our choice. Iraq will be free, Iraq will be independent, Iraq will be a peaceful nation and we will not waver in the face of fear and intimidation.

BUSH: The past few weeks have been hard and the days ahead will surely bring their own challenges. What we're seeing in Iraq is an attempted power grab by extremists and terrorists. They will fail. Extremists will fail because our coalition will not allow Iraq's future to be stolen by violent few. They will also fail because they are not widely supported by the Iraqi people who have no desire to trade one tyrant for another.

Many Iraqi leaders are showing great personal courage and helping to build a free Iraq. And we stand with them, and we appreciate their courage. And troops from our countries and other coalition friends are showing great personal courage as they help Iraq move toward democracy. And we appreciate their sacrifice and courage as well.

One of the essential commitments we've made to the Iraqi people is this: They will control their own country. No citizen of America or Britain would want the government of their nation in the hands of others and neither do the Iraqis. This is why the June 30th date for the transfer of sovereignty will be kept.

BUSH: This transfer will demonstrate to the Iraqi people that our coalition has no interest in occupation. On that date, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist, but coalition forces will remain in Iraq to help the new government succeed.

This week we've seen the outlines of a new Iraqi government that will take the keys of sovereignty. We welcome the proposals presented by the U.N. special envoy, Brahimi. He's identified a way forward to establishing an interim government that is broadly acceptable to the Iraqi people.

Our coalition partners will continue to work with the U.N. to prepare for nationwide elections that will choose a new government in January of 2005. We thank the U.N. and Secretary General Annan for helping Iraqis secure a future of freedom. We're grateful that Mr. Brahimi will soon return to Iraq to continue his important work.

A free Iraq will stand as an example to the Middle East, encouraging reform and hope by demonstrating what life in a free society can be like.

At the same time, we must also work to end longstanding sources of bitterness and conflict in the Middle East.

BUSH: Our commitment to freedom and peace in that region requires us to make every effort to help resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

On Wednesday, the prime minister of Israel presented his plan to withdraw from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank. I support that plan. It's a good opportunity. It gives the Palestinians a chance to create a reformed, just and free government. Palestinian leadership must rise to the challenge.

It gives all sides a chance to reinvigorate progress on the road map. I'm committed to the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

As I said Wednesday, all final status issues must still be negotiated between the parties. I look forward to the day when those discussions can begin so the Israeli occupation can be ended and a free and independent and peaceful Palestinian state can emerge.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, and a future Palestinian state, and across the greater Middle East, the best hope for lasting stability, security and peace is the advance of human freedom. BUSH: When men and women live in societies that reward their hopes and recognize their dignity, they are far less likely to dwell on resentments and turn to violence.

This is not an easy task. For whole nations to construct free institutions after decades of terror and tyranny requires patience and courage and the help of friends. Yet this difficult work is also necessary work.

In the Middle East, as elsewhere, the path to peace is the path of liberty, and all who choose that path will have the strong support of the United States and the United Kingdom.

In all these efforts, the American people know that we have no more valuable friend than Prime Minister Tony Blair. As we like to say in Crawford, he's a stand-up kind of guy. He shows backbone and courage and strong leadership.

I thank him and Cherie for coming. I thank the British people for their strength and their unyielding commitment to the cause of liberty.

BUSH: Mr. Prime Minister?

TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

George and Laura, thank you very much for welcoming myself and Cherie back to the White House.

For many years, but particularly most recently since September the 11th, our two countries have been friends and allies standing side by side and we will continue to do so.

Let me restate the historic nature of what we're trying to achieve in Iraq.

It is to take a state that under Saddam Hussein and his family was a merciless tyranny, that brutalized the country over many decades, that used chemical weapons against its own people; a state that threatened its neighbors and the wider world, that caused two wars with over a million casualties, that funded and supported terrorism; a country where already the remains of 300,000 innocent men, women and children have been found in mass graves in Iraq; a state that under Saddam was without human rights, civil liberties or the rule of law -- and our task is to take this state and turn it into a democracy, stable and prosperous, a symbol of hope to its own people and throughout the whole of the Middle East.

Against us in this task are ranged every variety of reactionary forces: sympathizers of Saddam Hussein, outside terrorists, religious fanatics.

BLAIR: We know the future that they have in mind for the people of Iraq and we reject it utterly, as do the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people. It was never going to be easy, and it isn't now. I pay wholehearted tribute to the American and British troops, and troops from all of the different coalition countries, and to the civilians also for many nations.

We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice.

And our promise to them in turn is very clear: It is to succeed, to get the job done, to ensure their courage and their sacrifice has not been in vain.

And our plan to do this is clear and we shall see it through. Our strategy, political and military, is as follows.

First, we stand firm. We will do what it takes to win this struggle. We will not yield. We will not back down in the face of attacks, either on us or on defenseless civilians.

Second, we hold absolutely to the 30th of June timetable for the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis themselves.

Third, we will redouble our efforts to build the necessary capability of the Iraqis themselves to take increased responsibility for security and law and order. The measures for recruiting, training and equipping Iraqi police and civil defense corps will be intensified.

Fourth, we will carry forward the plan for reconstruction and investment in Iraq, so that all parts of Iraq -- Sunni, Shia and Kurdish -- know that they have a place and a future in the new Iraq that is being created.

BLAIR: Fifth, the U.N. will have a central role, as now, in developing the program and machinery for political transition to full Iraqi democracy. And we will seek a new U.N. Security Council resolution to embody the political and security way forward.

It follows from this that the political and military strategies will reinforce each other, as they do now. The purpose of the military action is to create the security environment in which the political aims can be achieved.

And, of course, there will be resistance. We have resistance now by assorted terrorists in Fallujah; by supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf. We shall deal with both with the right balance of firmness in the face of terror and a clear offer to all people in Iraq, including those who might be tempted to support law-breaking.

The new Iraq will give opportunities to all its citizens, whatever their ethnic or religious background, but it will not tolerate or compromise with those who want to wreck the future for the law-abiding majority in Iraq.

Alongside the strategy for Iraq, we will seek to broaden the agenda for international action and cooperation. The G-8 gives us the chance, under the chairmanship of the United States this year and Britain the next, to construct such an agenda, to allow us to defeat the security threat, but also to confront the issues upon which the terrorists prey; to tackle the poverty, conflict, religious and ethnic strife which mar so much of the world.

In this regard, we reaffirm again the importance of a solution for the Middle East peace process.

BLAIR: We welcome the Israeli proposal to disengage from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. We want the quartet to meet as soon as possible to discuss how it can support the Palestinian Authority, in particular, economically, politically and in respect of security to respond to that offer.

We reaffirm that this is part of a process to get us back into the road map, which we continue to believe offers the only realistic route to the two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.

We have, therefore, an agenda for Iraq, for change and for democracy in Iraq.

We have also an agenda to help overcome the problems in our world, the problems not just of terrorism, but the problems of the breeding grounds of terrorism. And I believe our two countries will continue to play a role as allies and friends in securing not just a decent future of the people of Iraq, but a decent future for people everywhere in our world today.

BUSH: Thank you, sir.

We will take three questions a side. So why don't you ask one question to each of us?

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you ask Secretary Rumsfeld to draw up war plans against Iraq in November 2001, just as the military action was getting under way in Afghanistan? Why couldn't Iraq wait?

And, Mr. Prime Minister...

BUSH: No, I thought we had one question apiece. Not one questioner, one question apiece.

You know, I can't remember exact dates that far back. I do know this: that at a key meeting at Camp David the subject of Iraq -- this is on September the 15th -- we'd been attacked on September the 11th, obviously. The 15th we sat down. I sat down with my national security team to discuss the response, and the subject of Iraq came up.

BUSH: And I said as plainly as I possibly could, "We'll focus on Afghanistan, that's where we'll focus."

I explained this to the prime minister as well in a subsequent meeting; that was about the 20th of September. I think we came and talked about the response we were going to take in dealing with the attacks on our country.

So I don't remember in terms of what was being developed and not being developed, but I do know that it was Afghanistan that was on my mind and I didn't really start focusing on Iraq until later on, particularly about the time I started going to the United Nations with this message.

To the United Nations I said, "Let's uphold the demands of the world finally after a decade of threats to Saddam -- you know, 'If you don't do this, this will happen' -- why don't we finally just say something that we mean?"

And it was at that point in time when the president steps up in front of the United Nations and you say, "Either you take care of business or we others will, you better mean it." And I meant it when I went up in front of the United Nations at that point in time.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: I can't remember. I have to get back to you about a specific moment.

But I can tell you in September, I said, "Let us focus on Afghanistan. Let us make sure that we do this job and do it well."

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, the handover of power is just -- what? -- 80 days away and yet the killing is going on, there is still kidnapping. Do you accept it was an error not to involve the U.N. much more earlier in the process?

And I wonder, Mr. President, if I could ask you if that's a mistake that you're prepared to accept as well?

BLAIR: First of all, we have been involving the U.N. throughout, and actually the work that Mr. Brahimi has done -- we've both made it clear that we welcome. And I can tell you from the conversations I had with Kofi Annan last night, that I think there's a common approach.

I mean, obviously we have to discuss the details in particular with the Iraqi groups themselves as to how this political transition is to come about, but let me just say one thing to you about the violence and the killing there.

BLAIR: There was always going to be resistance to transition to democracy. And in particular, as the date of transition to a sovereign Iraqi government that's going to be broad-based -- as that date draws near, there's going to be violence. There's going to be violence from people who don't want an Iraqi future different from the past. And I don't think we should be surprised at this.

There will be religious fanatics, outside terrorists, former Saddam people who will come together and they will kill innocent civilians, they will try and kill coalition troops, they will kill Iraqis. They'll kill anyone who stands in their way.

And the reason that they're doing this is because they don't want a democratic Iraq.

Now, what is the response of ourselves and indeed the whole world of the community? Regardless of whether you support the war in Iraq or not, the response has got to be that we hold firm, we keep to the political transition, we keep to the timetable, and we do everything we humanly can to build up the capability of the Iraqis to take control of their own affairs.

Because in Iraq there will be all sorts of people, you know, that vast majority of people out there who aren't terrorists, who don't want to kill people, who want to lead an ordinary life, raise their family, have a job, have some prosperity, have some freedom, as other people in the world do, and they will be sitting there watching and waiting for one thing: Do we have the will and the determination to finish the job?

And what you're hearing from myself and the president of the United States is, we will stay there and we will get the job done because that's what we promised to do, and we will continue until it's finished.

QUESTION: Hosni Mubarak is saying the new U.S. policy on the West Bank could escalate violence. How do you respond to his concerns?

BUSH: Yes, I think this is a fantastic opportunity. You know, the fact that Ariel Sharon said, "We're going to withdraw from territory," is a historic moment. And it creates a chance for the world to come together to help develop a Palestinian state based upon a solid foundation, a foundation where the institutions are bigger than the people, just like our respective governments are founded.

BUSH: It's a chance to provide a framework for international aid that will help a Palestinian economy grow. It's a chance for people to come together to work on measures that will enable people to live in peace., security measures.

This is a historic moment. And I think people need to view it as such and seize the moment and help a Palestinian state become a reality, a Palestinian state that can live in peace with its neighbors.

And, you know, there's a lot of talk about the final status discussions and that's all in good. The problem is that people, by doing so, don't pay attention to the moment. And it's a moment we've got to seize.

The final status discussions will become a lot plainer -- and by the way, we're not going to prejudge the final status discussions. But the answer's become a lot plainer once there's a peaceful state that's committed to fighting off terror and a state that's capable of providing hope for its people.

I think it's possible. And the prime minister and I have spent a lot of time in this subject, and I'm not going to put words in his mouth, but he thinks it's possible. And we look forward to working together to make it possible.

But it's going to require a commitment by the Palestinian people to find leadership that is committed to peace and hope. And it's going to require a commitment by people in the neighborhood to support the emergence of a state.

This is a historic moment. I appreciate the prime minister of Israel coming here to announce it. We intend to seize the moment and to take advantage of an opportunity.

BLAIR: Look, I think what's happening here is that, despite all of the reactions, some of which -- I think it's expected and natural that always rebound around the world when a statement like this is made.

BLAIR: Let's just go back and see what the opportunity is here.

If there is disengagement by Israel from the Gaza or from parts of the West Bank, that then gives us the opportunity -- and this is where the international community has got to play its role -- that gives us the opportunity to help the Palestinian Authority with the economic, the political and the security measures they take and they need to take in order to get to the point where the concept of a viable Palestinian state becomes a real possibility; not something that's put in a document and talked about or discussed in resolutions or speeches, but actually is a real, live possibility.

And I see this not in any shape or form as pushing the road map to the side. On the contrary, I see it as a way back into the road map.

Now, I know there'll be all sorts of issues to do with the final status negotiations. And as the president said, no one's prejudging those. But let's not look this particular opportunity in the eye and then turn away. It is an opportunity for people.

And what I want to say -- not just to the Palestinians or the Israelis, but to the international community, is, whatever the doubts and worries, get involved now, because there is a possibility. When that disengagement happens, the Palestinian Authority have got to have the wherewithal -- in political, in economic, in security terms -- to start running the land, the territory, that will be then under their control, and use that as the basis of getting back into a proper road map negotiation.

Because, you know, we deal with many difficult issues.

BLAIR: Cyprus we discussed earlier. Northern Ireland that I'm dealing with.

The one advantage that you have in this situation, which is as well to keep in mind even at this difficult moment, is that there is now an agreement that there should be two states, an Israeli and a Palestinian state, and that Palestinian state should be viable.

And I can assure you -- and I believe this very strongly from the conversations I've had with the president -- that if the Palestinians are willing to make that effort and the international community helps in doing so, then they will find all of us then ready to engage and ensure that a proper discussion and settlement of these issues takes place. We will be ready to step up and do that.

QUESTION: Mr. Sharon says this agreement by the president has ended the dreams of Palestinians. Many Palestinians seem to agree with that as well.

Why do you two not see it in that light? The Israelis see it as a victory for their side.

BLAIR: Well, I don't -- I haven't come across those particular words and I would like to see the context of that.

But I don't think that this ends anyone's dream. I think what it does is give us at least the possibility of moving it forward.

Look, what have people been asking for years? They've been asking for the Israelis to withdraw from the occupied territories.

Now, this is not the final end of it. This is not a unilateral attempt to impose a settlement, but it does at least give the Palestinians, if they're able then to seize this opportunity, the ability to construct in the Gaza and those parts of the West Bank that will be under their control, with the settlements removed from there -- and remember, I can't remember exactly how many people it is; it's maybe 7,000...

BUSH: Yes.

BLAIR: ... people that there are in the Gaza part -- and those settlements are withdrawn.

BLAIR: Now, you know, forgive me, but I have been dealing with this for almost a decade, and it's been very, very difficult ever to get a situation where an Israeli prime minister's prepared to say, "We're actually going to take these settlements away," and make that not conditional on something that the Palestinians are doing, but say, "We're just going to do that."

Now, of course, there's a whole string of things that then have to be decided. All these issues have to be negotiated. We have to get back into the road map and get on a proper process toward a resolution of those issues.

But if that disengagement takes place, surely the intelligent thing, not just for the Palestinians, but for the international community, is to be ready to respond.

And here's where the quartet can play a part, the other partners in this process. The European Union, for example. I mean, we've put money into reconstruction in the Palestinian Authority. I believe that there's a real possibility, if we can get the right political system there, of the European Union putting money in to help reconstruct the country, to help build the proper security capability. These are things, however difficult, that offer opportunities. That's all I'm saying. And I think we have seize them.

BUSH: Let me say one quick thing about this. I hadn't seen the context in which he said it either, but I can tell you what he told me. He told me he supported a Palestinian state. He thinks it's in Israel's interest that there be a Palestinian state.

Obviously there's a caveat: He wants a peaceful Palestinian state. I mean, he wants somebody who will promote peace, not violence, somebody who's willing to join with a lot of us to fight off terror.

BUSH: He also recognizes that it's important that there be hope in his neighborhood. And a peaceful Palestinian state that gets help from the world is a state that can help small businesses grow, help an education system develop, help a health care system develop that provides basic services to its people.

I think this is a great opportunity. And you're going to have to ask him exactly whether that was in context or not.

But the impression I got from having sat with the man right upstairs here in the White House was he views it as a hopeful moment as well and made it clear that it's a part of the road map process, and knows what I know; that as we gain confidence in a Palestinian leadership and a Palestinian state that committed itself to peace, further progress will be made -- further progress will be made on territory.

And therefore at the final status discussions -- and I repeat, which are not being prejudged by the American government, as stated clearly on Wednesday -- will be easier to deal with. And that's what's important.

Seize the moment is what the prime minister's saying.

QUESTION: Mr. President, some of your critics are saying that it's a political ploy by you to stand firm to this June 30th deadline, especially that you don't have an Iraqi organization to transfer power over to. What do you say to that? And what organization would you like to see transferred power over to -- both of you, if you could answer that?

BUSH: Well, I appreciate that. I guess, you know, as a political, you hear everything I'm going to say as being, you know, they're going to say it's political.

What's important is that we honor our word and honor our commitments to the Iraqi people.

BUSH: I suspect that if you looked deep into the soul of the Iraqi people, they'd be saying, we don't know if we can trust America and Great Britain to be tough and hang in, hang in with us.

And one of the things we've said is we'll transfer sovereignty on June the 30th, and we're going to.

If they believe that we'll cut and run, in other words, if times get tough, we'll just say, "See you later," nobody is going to take a stand for freedom and liberty. See, they're afraid of getting killed or tortured or maimed.

I said the other night that a year seems like a long time for Americans and people in Great Britain, but a year is not much when you're trying to shed yourself from the habits of tyranny and torture.

Remember where these people came from. They came from a society where if they dared speak their mind, it's likely they'd end up in a mass grave or in a torture room. If they criticized Saddam Hussein in any way, they'd be maimed or killed. And that's a hard thing to forget.

See, it's easy for us to not recognize that fear, because fortunately our societies are such that we don't have to live with it. They did.

And if they think -- if they think that we will be, you know, leaving because of politics, then they won't take a risk toward freedom.

We're not leaving because of politics. We're standing firm on our word because it's right, and it's in the long-term interests of our countries that we stand firm.

BUSH: Because a free Iraq is an historic opportunity to change the world for the better.

There is a lot talk about, you know, the war on terror and, "Can we win the war on terror?" Of course we can win the war on terror in the long run. We can do a lot of things in the short term to protect ourselves, starting with staying on the offensive.

But in the long term, it's the spread of freedom that will win the war on terror.

You see, the great thing about our two countries is we believe in the power of free societies. And we don't, you know, say freedom is only consigned to one group of people or one religion. We believe freedom is universal.

And free societies are peaceful societies, and freedom will be the cure for those who harbor deep resentment and hatred in their heart.

And I appreciate the prime minister understanding that vision as well. It's a wonderful feeling to have a strong ally in believing in the power of free societies and liberty. And that's why we're going to stay the course in Iraq. And that's why we when we say something in Iraq, we're going to do it, because we want there to be a free society. It's in our long-term interests. It's in the interests of our children and our grandchildren that Iraq be free.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Hold on for a second. That's going to be decided by Mr. Brahimi. That's the recommendation of Brahimi. He's in the process. You are watching a process unfold, and you won't have to ask that question on July the 1st.

BLAIR: Yes, that's absolutely right.

What'll happen is that there will be discussions obviously that Mr. Brahimi's conducting, but the idea will be to have a broad-based government.

BLAIR: And then next year to move to a new constitution and then finally to democratic elections.

And that's the -- you know, so who's going to end up governing Iraq ultimately, it's going to be the Iraqi people with a proper democratic constitution.

BUSH: One final point on this thing -- thank you for bringing it up. The Transitional Administrative Law that had been written is a historic document. I mean, it's a wonderful opportunity -- it is -- for the people of Iraq to say, "Here's how civilized people must live. Here's how you protect minority rights. Here's how you protect the rights of religious people. And here's -- and here's -- here's -- here's -- here's how civilized people should live if they're going to provide hope for the future."

And there doesn't seem to be much focus on that what we call the TAL these days, and yet it is the cornerstone for what is going to be a free and hopeful society.

Final question?

QUESTION: Mr. President, if I could just ask you about Iraq again, the fact of the matter is that weapons of mass destruction have not been found and that a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda has not been proved and that a year on, troop numbers are coming up, not coming down. So however determined you are to make a better Iraq, isn't the awkward fact for both of you that you misled your peoples in taking troops to war and shedding blood as a result?

BLAIR: First of all, I'd just remind you that when, in November 2002, we passed the United Nations resolution calling upon Saddam to comply fully with the United Nations inspectors, we did that on the basis of an understanding that wasn't confined simply to Great Britain and America, but was right across the whole of the Security Council, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. And indeed it'd be difficult to conclude otherwise, given that his was a regime that actually used chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction against their own people.

BLAIR: And yes, a year on, we have faced some difficult times. We'll face difficult times again in the future.

But, you know, one of the most interesting things to me is when I go and I actually talk to other leaders out in that region -- and some of them have got very difficult politics over this issue, as you'll know for very obvious reasons -- but I'm struck by how much more secure they feel with Saddam Hussein gone.

And whatever their differences over the conflict, they know how important it is to their region and their stability and actually their chance of changing their own country that Iraq does become a stable and democratic state.

And this is one of these situations where, you know, people often say to me, "Well, is the world safer given all the difficulty and violence that you have in Iraq?"

And I say to them, "Well, first of all, don't think that violence wasn't happening every day in Iraq under Saddam Hussein; it was." But secondly, when you take on and you deal with these issues, yes of course you face difficult times. You're bound to have them, but the question is, is the aim and objective you are trying to secure one that if you do secure will make the world indeed safer and better?

And that's why, you know, I find now whatever the differences people have over the wisdom of the conflict -- and that's a debate that will go on and go on for many, many years no doubt and historians could all pore over it.

BLAIR: But everybody should recognize the common interest today in making sure that Iraq achieves the aim that we have set out and that everybody, of any sense, in the international community supports.

Because if...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BLAIR: No, because I believe the important thing is to make the world more secure as a result of Saddam Hussein going, as a result of that threat, then -- from Saddam and is regime, the threat that they carried out in their own region. I just listed for you two in which there were over a million casualties, you know, hundreds of thousands of his own people killed.

Now, this is a historic struggle, and we're at a very, very crucial moment. And I think for many, many people in Iraq, I think what the president said just a moment ago is absolutely right.

Of course, they're going to be sitting there asking, "After all the decades of tyranny we've had, after all the promises that the international community gave us and, frankly, let us down on, are these people going to stay the course?"

And we are. And we want the international community to work with us in doing that. We're not setting aside the United Nations or that process at all. We're actually trying to work with the U.N. now, because everybody understands the importance of fulfilling that objective.

And you just imagine an Iraq stable and prosperous and democratic, and think of the signal that would send out, think of the instant rebuttal of all of that poisonous propaganda about America, about it all being an attack on Muslims or of being part of a war of civilization. Iraq run by the Iraqis, the wealth of that country owned by the Iraqis, and a symbol of hope and democracy in the Middle East.

Now, for me, this is a cause that any person of good will and good heart should be able to support.

BUSH: Good job, Prime Minister.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of United States and the prime minister of Britain, visiting in the Rose Garden in the White House following their meetings inside the White House. Joined now by their wives.

They'll be walking back into the West Wing of the White House to continue their discussions, two subjects clearly dominating their news conference, their joint news conference and their opening statements that they made in the Rose Garden.

The situation in Iraq, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian situation, both the prime minister and the president expressing their support for Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's proposal to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza and at least parts of the West Bank.

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